Are You Having Toddler Troubles? Some Montessori Advice...

Lisa's son as a toddler in a red and black little devil costume squatting at the bottom of a slide

Throwing toys: At the toddler age, throwing is no longer acceptable. If she had a friend over or if you had a pet, they could get injured. What to do? Ask her to please pick up the toy. Remind her we do not throw toys. We throw balls outside and bean bags inside. Then, give her until the count of three (or five) to please pick up the toy or you will have to take the toy away. Count to three (or five) slowly. She may test you to see if you follow through! If she does not pick up the toy it gets taken away. If she cries or throws a tantrum, try to ignore it and don't give in to it.

Lessons: Many children under the age of three do not like taking lessons/three-period lessons from their parents. If your daughter does not respond well to you giving her a lesson on an activity, then only have activities and materials out that she does not need a lesson on. (You can read more about that here.

"In regards to his toys he is still throwing some (cars) yesterday I put one in the upper shelf and I told him that he would be able to have it back when he learns to be gentle with them. Today I made the mistake of giving it back to him and he did it again. We play with balls and bean bags which I always have close by to show what he can throw but it seems anything works!

"My last concern will be in regards to what is coming soon (a month and a half): We are moving to a different house -same city-. I have not started to pack yet. I just have the feeling that this move will bring a few more issues...! Hopefully Lisa you can have time to give me some advice! Thank you so much!"

What I am trying to say is, that going toe-to-toe with your toddler now, will make the years from three to six so much easier for you and your child. Better to deal with a difficult two-year-old NOW than a difficult four or five-year-old later! Even if that means having a good cry now and again, feeling like a failure, and questioning if you are doing the right thing.

In the meantime, what to do about mealtimes and throwing and spilling and the like. First, give your child a small pitcher, like a metal syrup pitcher, or a one-cup plastic measuring cup, and when you give your toddler his meal, put the juice or milk in the pitcher and let him pour it into his cup, also put a wet sponge or wet facecloth or paper towel to use close by for your toddler to wipe up spills, as well as a basket with a plastic liner like a plastic bag from a store, so your toddler can put the wet, used sponge or facecloth in it, or a small trash basket for used paper towels. Will your toddler spill while pouring? Yes, so just put a small amount in the measuring cup. 

You can also put a plastic dishpan on the floor in the kitchen so that when your toddler is done, he puts his dirty dishes in the pan himself. Anything he can do on his own will be a bonus, whether it is pouring, wiping spills, putting dishes in the dishpan, getting out his own napkin, and using a serving spoon or soup spoon to spoon his food into or onto his dish... At the same time, you can create more Practical Life activities for him to do during the day when he is not eating: pouring water, pouring large pasta, spooning, washing a rock or pumpkin or bike or doll, with very few steps, so he can practice his fine and large motor skills and improve them. 

When and if he throws something on the floor, remove it and say calmly, "Uh oh! Whoops! All done!" and begin to put everything away, but let him be a part of that process. So after he has thrown his cup, let him know mealtime is over, ignore the fussing, and begin the cleanup process but invite him to help you by showing him the tub (where he can reach it) to put his dishes in, then show him where the sponge is to use, or facecloth, as well as where it goes when it is dirty (I would use a sponge as a paper towel, only once, just don't throw away the sponge, obviously, but put it in a separate basket for wet, dirty sponges, because your toddler will not be able to rinse out and squeeze out the dirty sponge. And then have a lot of wet sponges ready for the next meal).

Your tot is over his infant throwing stage (where he is learning object permanence), he is now learning what not to throw as well the consequences of throwing dishes, toys that hurt if thrown, and the like. Be firm, and it sounds like you are doing that! And let him do as much as he can at mealtimes, before, during, and after!

"My 2.5 toddler sometimes throws her toys and activities off the table and I let her because she insists on throwing it, even if I ask her to fix it or show her how to use it. I am guessing she does it to check my reaction, or it is her need to throw when not interested in the toy or activity, or I am bored with the way I present?

"Also, I tell her I will not give her another toy until she cleans up, it does not seem right but I don't know another way to make her.

"I guess the most challenging situation with my 2.5-year-old toddler is when I ask her to do something, like leave the house, and she does not care to do it so she runs around... And if she does not want to go home with me and refuses to walk inside the house I encourage her with some favorite food of hers or playing her favorite songs, etc. "

Putting her toys away: It is OK to not allow her to play with another toy or activity until she puts her activity away. This is what we do in a Montessori classroom. But you can offer to help her. "Do you want Mommy to help you?" Or "Do you want to put it away together?" She is learning how to put her toys away, and it is OK to help her! Make it fun! Sing a song about putting toys away, just make it up, "We're going to put our toys away, la, la, la, la!" or whatever words you want to sing. You can also count as you put your toys away. "Let's put our toys away while we count, ready? Here we go! One, two..."

Rewards: Traditionally it is true that in Montessori classrooms there are no rewards or punishments... but at home, sometimes we need to offer a reward or a consequence, like giving her a reward for coming into the house... And that is also a transition: transitions are hard on young children because they are in a Sensitive Period for Order.

"I am at a loss (desperate!) with my just-turned-two-year-old son.

"We keep a very good rhythm in our home and as a discipline technique, we redirect and say NO when he is in danger of hurting himself or when he hurts others (occasional biting) modeling the right behavior right after.

"We have been doing pretty good around here but, recently meal times have become torture!

"Last week, I replaced his glass cups with plastic ones since for 10 days straight he was crashing them against the floor, (until now I find pieces of glass everywhere no matter how much and hard my husband and I clean). Now, he just poor the whole content on the floor and then throws the plastic glass and smiles. He does it so unexpectedly that it is impossible to catch him. In the beginning, I said: you need to remember to keep the glass on the table, then I used the NO and now I do not know what to do. I know I have to be patient and this behavior shall pass also but today I could not help it anymore and started to cry!"

Here is why: when you have an infant/tot, they have not formed a sense of self, yet, they feel as though they are an extension of the primary caregiver, usually the mom. Then, at around 21 months (also the height of tantrums), they begin their sense-of-self development, and their self-identity starts to form. But to develop that sense of self, they have to pull away from their primary caregiver, but they are not yet independent and still need a lot of help and assistance. So pulling away is a battle for them, and a battle for you as you try to help and guide them. Issues such as dressing, undressing, sleeping, eating, playing, pretty much everything is open for a battle, or as I prefer to say, going toe-to-toe.

What is important, is that you do just that, go toe-to-toe with your toddler. Because while they are creating their self-identity (I am Jason, I am a boy, I live in a house, I have my own toys...) they are creating patterns and routines and a sense of order that will become their next stage of development (Sensitive Period for Order from age three to six, the height being around age three-and-a-half). And if your toddler was allowed to throw glasses, or make a mess on the floor after being told or demonstrated that it is not OK, or whatever the battles entailed when they are three and four, it will be harder to instill those rules.

Hang in there, your child will not be a toddler forever! Gently guide her but be firm!

~Lisa Nolan

My Free E-books @

Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Homeschooler -

And now for my top posts!

The Working Mom's Guide to Montessori in the Home by Meghan of Milkweed and Montessori

Montessori and Composting with Kids

Montessori and Potty Training Boys

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook

A Montessori Teacher's Thoughts on Waldorf Education

How to Give a Montessori Three Period Lesson for ages Three and Up

Montessori Homeschool Routine by Marie Mack of Child Led Life

How to Boost Your Child's Creativity in a Digital World by Clarissa Brooks

Montessori & the benefits of the geoboard!